Blogging Cook's Illustrated: Real or Imitation Vanilla Extract?

Can you tell the difference between imitation vanilla and the real stuff in your baked goods? The chefs at Cook's Illustrated decided to put this to the test, and their results may surprise you. Get the scoop on this and our other favorite picks from the March/April issue after the jump!

Real Vs. Fake Vanilla - While there's no doubt that real vanilla extract has more depth of flavor than imitation, the cooks found that much of it disappears when the vanilla is heated and combined with other ingredients. They say imitation is fine if you're only using it for baking, but spring for the real extract if you make a lot of pastries or cold desserts.

Discovering Authentic Ciabatta - We can't wait to try this recipe! It makes use of a biga, one of the Italian pre-ferments, and includes a touch of milk to get that signature airy crumb.

DIY Pre-Grated Parmesan - Step away from the green can! Testing showed that parmesan bought whole and then grated in a food processor will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge. It's just as good as when freshly grated and is way better than anything pre-grated from the store.

Keeping Kitchen Staples Fresher Longer - We're thinking about taping this handy reference of pantry storage do's and don'ts to the inside of our cabinet! It gives the average shelf-life for things like vinegar, maple syrup, and chocolate, along with best practices for keeping everything fresh.

Mashed Potatoes, French-Style - We've never even heard of mashed potatoes like this! Instead of fluffy pillows, this recipe gives us something that looks more like savory potato pudding. The French term for this dish is "aligot," and we plan to try it out on dinner guests soon.

What stood out for you in this issue?

• Check out what else this issue has to offer on the Cook's Illustrated website.
• The March/April issue of Cook's Illustrated is on stands now for $5.95.

Related: Technique: Homemade Vanilla Extract

(Image: Flickr member Ginnerobot licensed under Creative Commons)